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How living tissues flow to shape the embryo

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The morphogenesis of living organisms is a fascinating process during which a genetic programme controls a sequence of molecular changes which will cause the original embryo to acquire a new shape. While we have a growing knowledge of the timing and spatial distribution of key molecules downstream of genetic programmes, there remain gaps of understanding on how these patterns can generate the appropriate mechanical force, so as to deform the tissues in the correct manner.

We show how a model of tissue mechanics can link the known pattern of actomyosin distribution in [i]Drosophila[/i] tissues to the process of axis extension, which is a ubiquitous morphogenetic movement of developing animal embryos. We show in numerical simulations that the correct movement is obtained only if the geometry of the embryo presents some precise features. This means that prior morphogenetic movements responsible for these features need to have succeeded in order to carry on the next round of morphogenesis. This highlights the contribution of mechanical feedback on the morphogenetic programme and also how mechanical action integrates at the scale of the whole embryo.

These results have been published in PLOS Computational Biology.